“We don’t want to punish you if you didn’t do it. Truly, we don’t.”
Ha, tell that to any prosecutor and they’ll laugh their butt off. Notches in the belt are all that matter to those guys.
What say you, former prosecutor? Does this accurately reflect the career pressures on your colleagues and the attitudes that grew out of them?
There are always exceptions, but in my experience they’re rare. Most prosecutors truly believe the defendant committed the crime they’ve charged.
And that’s the problem. The sincere belief that they’ve got the right guy is what causes more injustice than any unethical outlier who doesn’t care if he convicts an innocent person.
When the police believe they have the right person, their investigation ends. They don’t look for anyone else. This guy right here isn’t a suspect any more; he’s the perp. And when he’s interrogated, it’s not an investigation into whodunit. It’s an attempt to get airtight evidence so they can ensure this perp gets convicted. And if the guy confesses falsely, it confirms their bias and they believe it all the more strongly.
The same kind of thing is going on with prosecutors. They already start off with a bias that this guy did it. It could be a naive, uncritical bias that if the cops say he did it then he must have done it (I’ve known career prosecutors who really ought to have known better with this attitude. It’s more common than not, actually.) It could be the result of a careful analysis of necessarily incomplete facts — nothing more than a mistaken but genuine conclusion. Again, it is extremely rare for an ethical prosecutor to charge someone with a crime whom he doesn’t believe did it.
Once the case is charged, a number of things make it difficult to realize you’ve got an innocent person on your hands. There’s all kinds of confirmation bias going on. Things that indicate innocence are disregarded as unreliable, because they contradict what you “know.” Or you don’t even see them as indicative of innocence because you’re seeing them through a filter of guilt. (We’ll cover that in the Advanced section on Brady later on.) There’s pigheaded stubbornness, too. The inability (or refusal) to revisit one’s conclusions with an open mind. Sometimes you see a complete panicky breakdown, a flailing insistence on guilt in the face of overwhelming DNA evidence to the contrary. The belief has become so deep, so ingrained, that it’s impossible to dislodge. Or their ego is so wrapped up in their stance that they just keep doubling down, because an admission of error is just not a possibility.
So no, unless you have a particularly corrupt or incompetent local DA’s office (and they do exist, I’ve had to deal with them) there isn’t an institutional pressure to convict the innocent. It happens because people’s brains shut down, and they lack the character or intelligence to reopen them.
It’s not people being evil. It’s people being stupid, or lazy, or careless, or blind, or simply mistaken — but nevertheless believing they got the right guy.
A quote comes to mind:
“Good people are always so sure they’re right.” — Barbara “Bloody Babs” Graham, last words before execution.
(Incidentially, they were right in the Graham case as I recall, but the meaning still stands)
“Beware the righteous man” is always good advice. He’s probably the last person to have an open mind, or feel empathy. And it takes a sinner to show mercy.
Being wrong feels the same as being right up until you’re either debunked or vindicated.
There’s a pretty good TED Talk about that.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.
Whenever the police ask me if I knew how fast I was going I generally play coy & ask what their radar or clocking thingy claimed I was doing. If the numbers are at all in synch then I will admit to my speed, if they are off much at all I will not. And with my new GPS box I can record what my speeds were compared to the speed limit. I haven’t been pulled over since I got that (What, two years now?) but I do have it should I need to prove anything.
Most of the time it is me initiating the contact with the police anyways since I’m one of those people who not only tries to obey the law all of the time, but I don’t look like any minority group which might be profiled. Several of my friends are members of minorities which have a history of being profiled & they like having me around just to keep John Law from hassling them. Standard rule in those groups seems to be “don’t admit nothin’ unless the man has you dead to rights.”
I knew someone whom, whenever police stopped her for using her phone while driving, her response was, “Oh yeah? If you saw me on my phone, then what color was it?” They would not be able to remember such a minor detail and would give up trying to give her a ticket.
I admit only when caught dead-to-rights (It’s hard to say I didn’t know my inspection sticker was expired when it’s plastered to the windshield right in front of me, you know?…plus, it’s just honorable.); the rest of the time, I let the officer tell me what they think I did wrong. And if I ever get invited in for an interview, I gain a one word vocabulary that consists of the word “Lawyer.” Unless I’m the complaining party, I refuse to talk to the police without a lawyer present. I’d also prefer to have any questions they might ask pre-written and submitted to me at least one day prior to my arrival.
I worked Corrections for 3 years before the system finally got to me and I had to quit. The stories from the offenders I’d get about how their convictions were made started making me curious, and so I started looking up their records and cases. It was gut-wrenching. Lessons learned: Never talk to the cops without knowing what you’re getting into, whether you’re innocent or…uh..otherwise (Actually, if you’re guilty, go right on ahead!) because anything you say, inside and outside an interview, can be used in court to either get evidence against you via a search warrant, or get you into custody, whether it was a misunderstanding, a loaded question, leading questions by the officer, or just plain cultural differences and dialect or even jargon use conflicts.
By the way, when do we get into formal vs. informal interviews? I’ve heard conflicting stories about that from officers.
I was once on the wrong side of the prison fence for 24 months many years ago. I commend you for quitting. In my experience, there were a small number of decent corrections officers, a larger number in the middle who were just collecting a paycheck, and a small number at the bottom who were actively malicious, nasty people who enjoyed abusing the power they were granted.
In my case, when I was arrested, I was at least to keep my mouth shut. The arresting officer tried the “we know everything” ploy to get me to talk, but I was too upset at being forcibly detained to really form a coherent response.
In the interrogation room, I answered one question and then requested a lawyer. I’d never been arrested before (or since). It is very intimidating. The police were careful not to directly threaten me, but some of them talked among themselves within earshot about how prisoners were raped all the time in the jail with implements like broomsticks and such and how a guy like me could expect to come out with an enlarged anus. Nothing like that happened, of course, but it disgusted me that they considered such talk to be acceptable.
If you’re not an expert in the law (and most of us are not, of course), then you don’t really know what the police are and are not allowed to do. You may have some idea but not know the specifics. It is extremely difficult to pay attention and then remember how you were treated by the police so that you can then tell your lawyer what happened in the interrogation room.
As many others have said, the only correct response to a police interrogation is to turn into a clam.
On a completely pointless note, that cop is going to look like Rudolph’s nose the first time she finds herself west of the Rockies. What do you want to bet she’s one of those people who shows up blue in photographs?
The cops are the armed people stopping you, detaining you, invading your home. As far as I can tell, they are the ones that have some explaining to do.
I agree. When will we get a comic about Trust law and Torts?
Aren’t Public Servants Public Trustees? They’re the ones who need to explain when they’re invading homes without lawful writ of warrant, detaining nonviolent travelers on public roads, assaulting the public, and what amounts to armed robbery when seizing private property without a lawful writ of warrant (particularly describing things to be seized), among other such actions against the public beneficiaries of the trust that was designed to protect them from unlawful actions.
It’s also worth noting that there are some other ways to “confess” to a crime.
For example, the FBI does not use audio recorders in their interrogation rooms. Instead, they have a person taking written notes. If those notes disagree with what you later claim you said, well, you just proved yourself a liar. The court will almost always take the FBI’s word over yours. And don’t forget, lying to a federal agent is a crime in itself. If the note taker misunderstands something you said and it sounds like a confession to them, you have a problem.
Then there is the plain old corruption angle. Type up a confession, trace the perp’s signature onto it, and is anybody likely to believe he DIDN’T actually sign it?
Then there’s the Sirius Black confession…a guy so deep in shock he doesn’t realize his grief-stricken babbling is being taken out of context.
I’ve never had that traffic stop incident happen to me. The few times I’ve been pulled over for speeding I was legitimately speeding, and in all but one was able to tell the cop just how fast I was going (only once I didn’t look at my speedometer when the cherries went off).
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